The Balangiga Massacre Is Everyone's Story in Acclaimed Novel Insurrecto

We chat with Gina Apostol about the warring perspectives of her novel.

( In 2014, author Gina Apostol once told in 2014 that Filipinos don't get justice—we get melodrama. And while the Balangiga Bells of Samar were finally returned to us more than a century after they were taken by American soldiers as spoils of war—and a reminder of the "howling wilderness" they left behind—it seems Apostol's words still ring with truth. Published just a few months before the bells' return in December of 2018, Apostol's latest novel Insurrecto bares the many questions of what we take to be Philippine history: our memories, our experiences, our story. 

PHOTO Courtesy of National Book Store

We got to chat with Gina Apostol about her novel while the U.S.-based Filipino author is in the country to participate in this year's Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, which runs from August 2 to 4 at Raffles Makati. The novel made a lot of buzz when it was published during the latter part of 2018: It was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice in 2019 and a Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Best Book of 2018.

Insurrecto follows two women—an American filmmaker and a Filipino translator—as they create two different scripts telling one story: the Philippine-American war. The novel spans several decades, unraveling America's past and the Philippines' present (and vice versa) through multiple layers and references, ultimately bringing into light the different perspectives and complexities of a single tale.

The novel's cover features BenCab's painting Woman With Fan.
PHOTO BY War Espejo
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The title itself is a play on the dual viewpoints of the novel. "I chose to name it Insurrecto mainly because it was funny," Apostol tells, adding, "Well, mainly because you have to see double. So when you see Insurrecto, you're seeing both the racism of the Americans and the desire of the Filipinos." Is it "Insurrecto" a reader sees, or "Revolutionary?" she explains.

This is one of the purposes of Insurrecto: an exercise in perspectives. "You have to [ask] how is the American soldier [seeing it]? How is the Filipino seeing it?" says Apostol. The Balangiga Massacre is a story of many people, she points out. It would difficult to encase it in a "capital H kind of history," she says.

With Insurrecto, Apostol encourages the reader to "see all of these different lenses and to try to get at a possible meaning." She continues, "You know, and even [if] that meaning is going to be ephemeral, transitory, you have to try and figure that out. Because otherwise, you'll just keep fucking yourself over." 


While the story of Insurrecto is in no way fact, it isn't entirely fiction either. The novel follows—and plays on—many points of history and our understandings of it. From the Philippine-American War to Duterte's Philippines, Apostol says, "I think it's important also for Filipinos to see that whenever they say something or do something na parang weird, you have to think about 'Why am I saying that?'" 

Catch author Gina Apostol and other literary figures at the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival 2019, happening from August 2 to 4 at Raffles Hotel, Makati City. Registration starts at 9 a.m. For updates, check out the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival official website or follow them on Facebook.

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